A Look into the Pi-Shaped Expert Model

By Staff Contributor on October 7, 2015

So you’ve started planning your career using a VCDX skillset. Continuing on that same train of thought, I want to walk you through an additional concept that might help you decide what skills to develop next.

In the last year, I’ve been preparing my organization for the new skills any infrastructure, network or storage admin needs to develop in order to remain valuable for the organization.

Let me give you a little background on this concept. It used to be totally fine if you knew about ITIL for service management, a little PRINCE2 for project management, a couple basic technical certifications (such as MCSA, VCP, CCP), or maybe an advanced certification (MCSE, VCAP/VCIX, CCE).


But then, consumption models of IT started to change—various public cloud services for Infrastructure, Platform, and Software emerged. Ultimately, this altered the way IT admins consumed IT resources and the way they handled their day-to-day jobs.

It was suddenly about hybrid cloud, bursting workloads into the public cloud, orchestrating business decisions into automation frameworks, DevOps, Agile IT, and more. However, these all demand a whole new skill set.

In my previous post, I talked about two concepts that can help you decide what skills to develop next. Now, I’d like discuss a third, the Pi-shaped Expert model. There’s three phases in this model:

The T-shaped Expert

The T-shaped Expert has basic knowledge in a couple of domains and one expertise—usually in a technical domain, such as virtualization or storage.

The Pi-shaped Expert

 The Pi-shaped Expert builds on the aforementioned by having expertise in not one, but two distinct domains.

The Comb-shaped Expert

 The Comb-shaped Expert again builds on the previous levels by having multiple domains of expertise.

Now, why is this model relevant? Consider an expert in a single domain: he might find his area of expertise is no longer required by the business or worse, no longer relevant in the industry.


There are numerous examples of this, but I’d like to share a personal experience. That said, I was trained to be a Novell guy. I got certified on the CNA and CNE levels, and was one of the leading Novell experts within my company. But within a year, Novell felt these skills were no longer relevant and I was left with an obsolete set of skills. Luckily, I was already diversifying and had gone into VMware certifications. So long story short, this proves the value of the Pi-shaped Expert model!

And this is where this model can be useful to you: determine where you are on the ladder and find out which expertise, given the new IT consumption model, then focus on automation/orchestration. In turn, you will be on course to further develop your skill set.

Once you’ve established this, work on that broad and solid base and a specific expertise alternatively. Further, make sure to map out a plan for both the base and the expertise using the VCDX-techniques, and finally make sure to plan for switching between the two in a regular interval.

Lastly, be sure to prevent a comb-shaped model with a lot of missing or broken combs. What I mean by that is, it’s okay to abandon a dead-end expertise, but have a plan that includes skills or expertise that integrate into a consistent and complimentary set. Because of this, it is really important to keep an eye on the future, predicting which new set of skills or knowledge will complement your existing ‘comb’ best. Don’t forget that new skills start out in the ‘base’ and transition into a comb as you gain experience.

These concepts have been very help in my growth in the IT field. I hope they can be as useful to you as they have been for me!

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